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Bon Jovi guitarist David Bryan: It's the most fun you can have with your clothes on

Long-serving keyboardist on why he'll never tire of rock 'n' roll life... and his alter-ego as a composer of musicals

Bon Jovi members David Bryan (L) Jon Bon Jovi (C) and Tico Torres (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Bon Jovi members David Bryan (L) Jon Bon Jovi (C) and Tico Torres (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

By Ralph McLean

Imagine, if you can, being the keyboardist in Bon Jovi, one of the biggest rock and roll bands in the world today.

You're playing another international show in another huge stadium and you're standing looking out at thousands of adoring faces, all of whom are waiting eagerly for the next song to start. You fire up that keyboard and kickstart the timeless opening riff to Living On A Prayer and the entire crowd in that packed arena, every single one of them, go buck mad with sheer unrestrained delight. It's pretty safe to say a thrill like that would never get old.

For almost four decades now, David Bryan has been that hard-rocking keyboardist and when we hook up to discuss Bon Jovi's imminent return to Dublin, he's quick to confirm that it's a magical moment that he never gets tired of savouring.

"It's the most fun you can have with your clothes on," the 57-year-old New Jersey-born musician says with a knowing smile and a shake of his blond rock star curls.

"I just start that intro and the whole place goes batty. I'm the guy that starts it and it truly is the top of the mountain. You can see live what a song does and how a stadium like the RDS lights up when you play a song. It's pretty damn awesome!"

Of course when you play in a hit-making machine like Bon Jovi, you're talking about a whole raft of crowd-pleasing classics to perform and legendary riffs to unleash.

"I love starting Bad Medicine," he continues warming to the theme of the show stoppers he enjoys playing the most. "And I really love Wanted Dead Or Alive." At this point he actually sings me the riff. "Bah, bah, dah, dah, Bam," he roars, giving it loads of the old air keyboard hand movements to underline his passion.

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Portrait of American rock band Bon Jovi backstage before a performance, Illinois, early March, 1987. Pictured are, from left, David Bryan, Tico Torres, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, and Alec John Such. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)
Portrait of American rock band Bon Jovi backstage before a performance, Illinois, early March, 1987. Pictured are, from left, David Bryan, Tico Torres, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, and Alec John Such. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

A classically-trained musician who first met Jon Bon Jovi and formed a band when they were two fresh-faced New Jersey 17-year-olds, this is a man who's been there through both the good times and the bad.

A seasoned road warrior he's proud of the group's recent success, their most recent album reached number one in an incredible 30 countries, but he's not afraid to admit it hasn't all been plain-sailing.

"We've had our situations, a few bumps along the road," he tells me, "but me, Tico (Torres) and Jon just wanna keep doing it, we're having fun doing it, we're thriving and it's great."

He's not afraid to look back either happily recalling the crazy days when the band's 1986 album Slippery When Wet took them into the super leagues of rock. "The whole world just changed," he says in a voice that suggests he still can't believe how mad it all got for a while. "I left home in '84 and came back in 1990. I got about 15 minutes of sleep and I spread it out too. I didn't do it all in a row."

As we chat he remembers the more dangerous side of life on the road, the side that saw many of his friends and contemporaries fall by the wayside.

Speaking about his wildest years, he admits: "I wasn't hanging on for grim life. I was hanging on for the fun life. I didn't resist it, I partied with everybody but I always knew when to stop. I'm lucky that I don't have that addictive gene. I can have a whole bunch of fun and then get back to work, have a life and a family and balance everything out."

These days the wild times may be mostly over but the workload just keeps on growing. Today Bryan splits his time between the band and his other life as the writer of musicals. He's picked up several big accolades for his work in recent times as well as bagging a brace of Tonys and an Olivier award for his musical Memphis - and he even has a stage production based on the life of Princess Diana on the way. It's tough going balancing the two worlds but it's a challenge the musician clearly relishes.

"The world of musicals is from 9am to 1am and you're working your face off for seven weeks then you come into the band and you work your face off again but somehow I'm able to juggle both of those jobs and enjoy both of them. I have a 16 piece band on the Princess Diana project with horns and strings and percussion with 20 singers and 36 parts to put together in your head. It's really a lot more complicated and a different art form but it just makes me grow as a musician and grow as a writer and when I come into the band world, I can bring all that knowledge with me and vice versa."

This is a man who lives to perform and a man who clearly can't wait to get back onto an Irish stage later this month.

Musician David Bryan and Lexi Quaas (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)
Musician David Bryan and Lexi Quaas (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)

"We hit the road in 1984, that was our first time in Ireland, and we've been knocking it down ever since," he says proudly.

"I can't wait to come back. The RDS is a special place. There are so many mythical stories about it. I remember the rainclouds raining on us one time and Jon saying even the Gods are crying because they can't get a ticket to Bon Jovi. They're magical times. Every time we go there, there isn't any sleep.

"There's a lot of fun, a lot of talk and a lot of great experiences. The best thing about live music is it's the greatest interaction you can get. You're up there kicking butt and having the greatest time of your life and you're looking out at your fans and they're having the greatest time and everybody's forgetting about the world outside and for just a couple of magical hours, you go on a little musical vacation. The RDS is always a special night and our Irish fans are the best. It's such a great feeling. It feels like home."

As his people wind things up, I ask him if the old magic is there every time the band get back together to hit the road. He's got no doubts whatsoever.

"It's right there", he says with a final laugh, "it's always a gigantic challenge but the challenge is always met. It's that New Jersey working-class thing, you always want to be the best you can."

Bon Jovi: This House Is Not For Sale tour plays the RDS Dublin on June 15 and 16. Tickets from www.ticketmaster.ie

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